The Foreign Service Journal, April 2015

32 APRIL 2015 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL briefed him on the secret evacuation system that we had set up, which now had many high-risk Vietnamese ready to be taken out of the country. I told him that what was needed was a mes- sage to the ambassador from the White House instructing him to immediately begin to evacuate these individuals. I handed him a draft cable which gave the details of our plan, with Lacy Wright as the contact. General Scowcroft went to the president that night and then sent the message through the White House back channel to Amb. Martin, instructing him to assist these people to leave. This action, in effect, began the flow of Vietnamese out of the country. A trickle at first, over the next week or so more than 100,000 refu- gees were airlifted out of Vietnam. In his book Decent Interval , Frank Snepp wrote that this system eventually saved thousands of Vietnamese civilians. One last memory of the evacuation is from April 28. When I arrived at work early that morning, I learned that the NSC had just met and advised the president to halt the evacuation due to the threat of attacks on the airport. When I phoned Saigon to relay this information, however, I was told that Tan Son Nhut Air- port was not under attack, and that there were still 20,000 high- risk Vietnamese at the airport whom we were about to abandon. Wondering what I could possibly do to prevent a humani- tarian disaster, I ran across to the White House and into David Kennerly’s ground-floor office. Out of breath, I explained the desperate nature of the situation. David reacted instinctively. He dashed up to the Oval Office, to which he always had access, and told the president directly that he had an absolutely reliable source who told him there were thousands of refugees stranded at the airport who could still be saved. The president, who was said to consider Kennerly like a son, acted immediately to order the evacuation to continue. Thousands more refugees were flown out of the country that day, until the North Vietnamese bombardment finally forced the airport to close. The evacuation of the embassy was completed on April 29. The next day, a North Vietnamese tank crashed through the gates of Independence Palace, ending the war and the existence of the Republic of Vietnam. Hoa Binh—peace—had arrived, but few in the South were dancing to welcome it the way my employ- ees in Chau Doc had on Jan. 27, 1973. n